It’s the first day of autumn here in the Adelaide Hills today and there are signs of harvest everywhere. Driving along the winding roads becomes a little more hazardous as we dodge the large grape-picking machines which travel from vineyard to vineyard, the enormous double-trailered (there’s probably a name for these) trucks carrying the precious grapes to the wineries and various private cars, vans, trucks and utes (pick-ups) loaded with ladders and itinerate pickers heading to and from the apple orchards as the apple harvest begins.
Not so at our house, though. I managed to steal some of the plums away from the birds, but our other stone fruit and ALL of the apples are long gone – ravaged before ripening by the voracious galahs, corellas and rosellas. We still have our citrus fruit (thank heavens for bitter rinds), the quinces ripen quite late up here and I can always seem to find some ripe figs that the birds have missed.
We have a scrawny orange tree that I have been nurturing along for some years. That, and an up-until-recently unidentified citrus, have been overshadowed and stunted by a scruffy, unattractive Paper Bark tree whose existence has been the subject of intermittent marital disagreement. A recent visit by some horticulturally savvy friends shed light on the identity of the anonymous citrus – a Tahitian Lime, no less – and the tree next to it which I had never even really noticed. Seems that this is a White Mulberry and what I had always assumed to be it’s nondescript flowers are, in fact, the most ambrosial tasting fruit I have ever eaten. This tree, too, has been stunted by the increasingly ugly Paper Bark. In a calculated move a little like Eve (but plumper and older) with the apple, I lured the disputing spouse under the tree and fed him some of the White Mulberry fruit. One taste was all it took for The Husband to pronounce the death sentence upon the blot on the landscape and it is astonishing how quickly the citrus trees have responded to the extra light, water and space.
Our oranges don’t look like much, but they have an amazing flavour and I have been working on ways to combine them with the only other ripe fruit to hand at the moment – the figs. I made a vow at the beginning of summer to try to make more home-made ice cream and am proud of this gorgeously fragrant recipe which I eventually came up with. While there are a couple of steps, it really is not a fussy recipe and is well worth the effort. I found that the flavour of the orange blossom water tends to dissipate after freezing so you may need to beef this up a little. After I’d made it I also thought some toasted, slivered almonds would be a great addition – so feel free to play around with it. A Thermomix makes this easier, but is not necessary – I have given instructions for either stove-top or TM.
- 1 cup fresh orange juice
- 2 Tbsp honey
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 500 gms fresh figs, stems removed and quartered
- 2-3 tsp orange blossom water
- 250 mls pouring cream
- 250 mls full cream milk
- 150 gms white chocolate, finely grated
- ½ tsp vanilla bean paste
- 2 egg yolks
- 70 gms caster sugar
- Place orange juice, honey and cinnamon stick into small saucepan and bring to the boil over moderate flame. Remove from heat and allow to steep for an hour or two then remove and discard cinnamon stick.
- Preheat oven to 180C.
- Place quartered figs in a shallow, greased oven tray. Pour over the orange juice and honey mix and roast figs until all the juice has evaporated and the fruit has caramelised - about 20 minutes. Watch carefully towards the end to avoid burning.
- Cool the fruit before placing in food processor and pulsing until finely chopped.
- Stir in orange blossom water.
- Combine the cream and milk in a saucepan. Add chocolate and vanilla paste and heat, stirring, until chocolate melted. Cool a little.
- Beat sugar and egg yolks together until thick and creamy.
- Add a small amount of the warm cream/milk mixture and blend well before gradually adding the egg yolks to the rest of the cream/milk over a low flame. Cook over low heat for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, until mixture just thickens and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Refrigerate until cold.
- Place in ice cream machine and churn until frozen, place in freezer container, add figs and stir through. Freeze until solid.
- THERMOMIX INSTRUCTIONS for Ice Cream
- Grate the chocolate at speed 8 for 5 seconds.
- Add milk/cream and melt together 2 mins, 50C at speed 3.
- Add butterfly and vanilla paste and sugar. Process 2 minutes at speed 4, adding the yolks one at a time through the lid.
- Refrigerate until cold and then proceed as above.
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I’m quite a creature of habit – a condition which tends to leave me largely immune to most passing fads, dietary or otherwise. While I am happy to admit that I’m a greedy girl, for the most part I attempt to moderate my food variety and intake – I don’t miss out on things I love, but try not to pig out on them either. (With the possible exception of pork crackling and potato chips.) So, while things like Goji berries and Amaranth might be amazingly good for me, unless they taste gob-smackingly great or are easy to incorporate into my existing and already broadly varied diet they are unlikely to have much of an impact on me. I’m only human, though, and occasionally something that’s making people talk will pique my curiosity and I give it a go.
Such was the case with coconut oil. I already love the taste of coconut, in both sweet and savoury dishes, and when I saw all the remarkable health claims around the cold pressed oil I thought it might be worth giving it a try in some of my everyday dishes. And what astonishing health claims they are! I’ve done a little research on this product and have seen some extraordinary assertions, including suggestions that it can assist in digestion and metabolism, immunity, dental care, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and that it can reverse Alzheimer’s disease and has anti-microbial properties. I’d suggest that, like many natural products, coconut oil has a role to play in any or all of these conditions and that it has a place in a broadly varied diet. However, we need to remember it is still a fat and while I’m keen on fats (and have the hips to prove it) – especially the tasty, heart-helping kinds – their place in our diet should be limited.
Purely in the interests of research I bought myself a big jar of cold-pressed coconut oil recently and set about experimenting with it. I’ve very happily used it to replace olive oil (a personal favourite of mine) when frying chicken and fish and have been playing around with it as a substitute for butter when baking. I was pretty happy with these cookies which I put together last week. If more is better, then the combination of coconut oil and coconut cream, along with shredded coconut, must make them practically a dietary imperative – however, I suspect not. They are very tasty and not too sweet though, and would be a great addition to the lunch boxes when school goes back. I made mine in the Thermomix but, again, any food processor will do the job. Do remember to refrigerate the dough before baking – it does make a difference.
- 2½ cups plain flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 160 gms cold pressed coconut oil
- ½ cup coconut cream
- 1 cup brown sugar
- ½ cup caster sugar
- 2 eggs
- ½ tsp vanilla paste
- 1 cup craisins
- 1 cup shredded coconut
- 1½ cup choc chips
- Place coconut oil, coconut cream & sugars into processor - whizz until creamy.
- Add eggs and vanilla paste, whizz to combine.
- Add flour, salt, baking powder & baking soda, whizz until combined.
- Stir through craisins, coconut and choc chips.
- THERMOMIX INSTRUCTIONS -
- Place coconut oil, coconut cream & sugars in TM - speed 6/20 seconds.
- Add eggs and vanilla paste through hole in the lid - speed 6/10 seconds.
- Add flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder - speed 5/15 seconds.
- Add craisins, coconut & choc chips - Reverse speed 4/10 seconds.
- CONTINUE -
- Refrigerate dough for at least one hour before using, or overnight.
- Preheat oven to 180C. Line cookie trays.
- Place dessertspoons of dough on lined tray and bake for 12 minutes.
- Cool on tray for 5 minutes before transferring to cake rack to cool completely.
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Well my lovelies, things are about to get a little bit of a shake-up on this blog as of later this week. The Husband and I are off on holidays in a few days and will be spending the next five or so weeks in Italy, Paris and London, via HongKong! I’ll be taking along my trusty lap-top (grumblings of unhappiness about this from the blokey corner of the room) and will be doing my best to keep you up to date with pictures and commentary on our travels. It’s almost like taking you on holidays with us! (More grumbles.)
There is also another minor change in the wind as my favourite kitchen-ware supplier, Everten Online, contributes some of their latest kitchen and bakeware products for me to offer my readers as prizes. Keep your eyes on these pages over the next few weeks as I will have some very special products available for you to win, with very little effort on your part!
In the meantime, I wanted to share my breakfast with you. Well – not literally, of course. My fondness for peanuts combined with chocolate led me to create this Chocolate Peanut spread and the use of salted peanuts gives a hint of the salty/sweet contrast I love . I made mine in the Thermomix (I know, again), but it would be just as easy to do with an ordinary food processor and a double boiler, although it may not be quite as smooth. It would be worth using icing sugar if you don’t have a Thermomix as this will combine more smoothly. I love it on hot croissants or crumpets, where it goes all melty, but my kids enjoy it on hot waffles or pancakes. If it was softened in the microwave it would also make a lovely frosting for cakes and I’m sure you could think of plenty of other ways to enjoy it.
- 50 gms caster sugar (use icing sugar if using normal food processor)
- 60 gms salted, roasted peanuts
- 100 gms 70% chocolate
- 25 gms cocoa
- 70 gms soft butter (NOT margarine)
- 80 gms milk
- Thermomix Instructions
- Place sugar in bowl & pulverise for 10 seconds, speed 8.
- Add peanuts & chocolate and grind for 10-15 seconds, speed 8. Scrape down.
- Add butter and milk and cook for 6 minutes, 50C, speed 3.
- Whizz for 20 seconds, speed 5 or until completely smooth.
- Processor Instructions
- Grind sugar, chocolate and nuts together until mixture as smooth as possible.
- Melt butter and milk together over medium heat, add chocolate mixture and stir until combined and smooth.
- Cool slightly, then return to processor and whizz until as smooth as possible.
- Store in refrigerator.
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St. Patrick’s day has always been a special day to me. Coming from bog-Irish stock on both sides, as I do, it was always celebrated in some way or other in our family when I was growing up. We were (and still are) very proud of our Irish heritage and it was a very distinct part of our cultural fabric. I lived with my grandmother in those far-off days of my youth and my mother was the youngest of her seven children, so it was a busy household with aunts, uncles and cousins often popping in and out. Family get-togethers were regular and raucous, generally involving the singing of Irish songs at some stage and, when held at my uncle Peter’s house, with the flag of Eire flying splendidly from the clothes line.
My grandmother was an old-fashioned woman and, in those pre-en suite days, a green chamber-pot was kept under her bed “for emergencies”. On St. Pat’s day my mother would retrieve it, scrub it out with disinfectant and stand it boldly on a pedestal by the door on our front verandah – much to my absolute and prudish teenaged horror. A special glass was always raised on the day, too, but our cultural heritage was reflected on a more daily basis in the food we ate. Talented and skillful Irish chefs and cooks like Darina Allen, Rachel Allen and Richard Corrigan have done much to promote the riches of Irish cuisine in more recent times, but my memories of family meals like tripe in a parsley sauce and dishes of grey Irish stew were not the kind of food memories I wanted my own children to grow up with.
In an effort to maintain a link with our traditional culture we gave our children quite Irish names (without all the tricky spelling, although we did consider it). Like myself, my sister and my mother, our daughters were encouraged to take Irish dancing lessons and like all of the afore-mentioned, they didn’t really take to it. A few years ago we took the children to Ireland and spent three weeks there with them, pointing out the bullet holes in the post office in Dublin’s O’Connell Street, visiting Kilmainham Gaol and eating lots of lovely potatoes. And every St. Patrick’s day when they were smaller I would mark the occasion with green food dye in the milk for their morning cereal and make some soda bread or potato pancakes for dinner.
Of course they are well past the stage where they find green food amusing now and the older two are often not up for breakfast, nor around at dinner time. This year on St. Patrick’s day I found myself with a lovely bunch of fresh green herbs, compliments of my produce box from Jupiter Creek Farm, which needed using up. Thinking back to our times in Ireland and a stunning meal of wild-caught salmon that we once had there I decided that a simple green herb pancake with smoked salmon was the perfect way to celebrate the day. I made mine in my Thermomix, but the same quantities and a similar method using a regular food processor will result in just as pleasing results.
Recipe: Green Herb Pancakes with smoked Salmon & Horseradish Cream
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh herbs (I used parsley, rocket and basil)
- 2 cups self raising flour
- 1 1/2 – 2 cups buttermilk (more if you prefer thinner pancakes)
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp sea salt
- Butter for frying
- 200 gms smoked salmon
- 250 mls sour cream
- 2 tsp horseradish
- Place herbs in Thermomix, chop 5 seconds on speed 7.
- Add flour, milk, eggs and salt. Whizz 10 seconds on speed 6.
- Heat small amount of butter in frypan until foaming, pour in batter in desired amounts depending on what size pancakes you like.
- Cook until bubbles form on the top surface, then carefully flip.
- Repeat with batches until batter all cooked, keeping cooked pancakes warm in oven.
- When ready to serve, arrange smoked salmon on top of pancakes.
- Mix horseradish with sour cream and spoon over salmon.
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Well folks we are really coming to the pointy end of the year now, with only ten sleeps left until the fat man shows up. It’s a ridiculously busy time of the year for us all as we race to finish important jobs off at work, catch up with everybody we haven’t had time for all during the year, shop furiously for our nearest and dearest and desperately plan the execution of one of our most significant meals of the year. Christmas food comes in many different cultural shapes here in Australia and we are often a lot more casual about our big dinner than in the colder climates. While many of us enjoy sitting down to the formal hot baked dinner with all the trimmings, many others are happy with a cold seafood meal, a slap-up barbecue or a picnic at the beach. As for me, well I love to do my best to keep the meal as local as possible, but I’m also a bit lazy and am very happy to find shortcuts wherever I can.